The future is always in the process of arriving, whether we want it to or not. What exactly do we want -- or dread -- on the technology front? The Pew Research Center has some answers from a recent phone survey of US consumers looking at the science of the next 50 years.
Count robo-cars among the technologies closest to being an everyday reality. Among the 1,001 Pew survey respondents, 48 percent indicated they'd like to take a ride in a driverless car -- but 50 percent would not. And only 3 percent said they'd like to own a self-driving car.
Pictured here is Google's self-driving Lexus RX450h.
Self-driving cars may be smart, but one thing they can't do (yet) is fly. And what good is the future if it doesn't bring flying cars? Over the years, there have been (more or less) one-off prototypes, but nothing yet that has approached the on-ramp to mass production. Which is a shame for the 6 percent of Pew respondents who said a flying car is something they'd like to own.
Startup Terrafugia has already flown and driven its "roadable aircraft," the Transition, which takes off and soars like a standard fixed-wing airplane. Now it's sketching out a vertical-lift concept called the TF-X, pictured above.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos envisions little drone aircraft dropping off your online impulse purchases at your doorstep within 30 minutes of your clicking the Buy button. American consumers are decidedly less enthusiastic, as judged by the Pew survey: A solid 63 percent think we'd be worse off if US air space were opened up to personal and commercial drones, trouncing the 22 percent who think all that air traffic would be a change for the better.
The Mars One project wants to launch its first crew to the red planet in 2024 and a second one two years later. As exciting as that sounds, there's a caveat: These would be one-way trips.
Was that sobering detail on the minds of Pew respondents earlier this year? We can't say for sure, but we do know that while 33 percent said humans will have long-term space colonies in the next half-century, nearly twice as many -- 64 percent -- said it won't happen.
The big thing cooking early in August 2013 was the world's first burger made from "cultured beef," grown in a lab from bovine stem cells in a process developed by a professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Backers estimate that commercial production of cultured beef could begin within 10 to 20 years.
Will we be ready to chow down? Maybe not: An overwhelming 78 percent of the people in the Pew survey said they would not eat meat grown in a lab.
Keep the lab-raised beef out of our bellies, and keep your technology out of our brains -- 72 percent told Pew they would not want a brain implant.
Google Glass is the modest here and now of what will surely be a future of wearable tech everywhere, on everyone. "Public attitudes towards ubiquitous wearable or implanted computing devices," the Pew's Aaron Smith wrote, "are the most positive, or more accurately, the least negative" of some of the technological changes that made the survey.
While 37 percent of respondents think it would be a change for the better if most people could "wear implants or other devices that constantly show them information about the world around them," significantly more -- 53 percent -- think it would be a turn for the worse.
In New England (and elsewhere), the saying goes, if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes. But why wait if you can make a change happen? Pew says 19 percent of its survey takers expect humans will be able to control the weather in the foreseeable future. We'll see if the future rains on that parade.
Among Pew's future-minded survey takers, 39 percent said scientists will solve the riddle of time travel in the next 50 years; 56 percent say no, they won't. And yes, that is the DeLorean from the "Back to the Future" movies, of course.